The city of Vancouver prepares to quietly approve the city-wide Official Development Plan without any public input prior to a referral to public hearing on June 11.
Meanwhile, the Mayor's Engaged City Task Force is released with great fanfare declaring the virtues of earlier public involvement in the planning process.
This proves George Orwell's premise that governments will say one thing while they do the opposite.
Vision Vancouver is proposing city-wide block parties as a means to engage citizens, rather than including people in meaningful discussions on how they want their city to develop over the next 30 years.
The Official Development Plan and Regional Context Statement is Vancouver's overarching plan. It will direct all development in the city of Vancouver for the next 30 years, which presently includes proposals to hand over regional designation of large swaths of the city, yet it is being fast-tracked through the system without public involvement.
All of the city's development and land use policies are bundled up into this one document and presented with a plan to Metro Vancouver for approval. The plan is second in importance only to the Vancouver Charter, which legally governs the city.
City hall has been working on these plans with the region, province, and TransLink under the public radar for over a decade. The city continues to present the plans as merely procedural, even though they will affect the future of every neighbourhood and citizen of Vancouver.
For example, one of the policies included in this plan is the rezoning along all arterials that was approved last fall without consultation as an "interim" policy.
Our previous regional plan was the Liveable Region Strategic Plan. The current regime replaced it with the Regional Growth Strategy in July 2011. By July 2013, every municipality in the region is expected to submit its own plan to show how it intends to achieve the growth strategy goals set out in the Regional Growth Strategy.
Each city's draft plan must be submitted to the region for approval accompanied by TransLink comments. The region is required to ensure TransLink's development plans are supported and mirrored by the city's zoning plans, thereby increasing Metro Vancouver, TransLink, and provincial influence over Vancouver's civic land use authority, especially in regionally designated areas of the city.
Darlene Marzari was on city council with TEAM from 1972 to 1980. She was elected to the provincial legislature from 1986 to 1996, and served as minister of municipal affairs for two and a half years. About the proposed plans, she says, "Fifty years ago I fought a highway through Strathcona and advocated for neighbourhood involvement in land use decisions. The wheel has turned full circle. The issues are the same today."
Marzari further explained, "It should be of great concern that Vancouver would jeopardize its stewardship and legal responsibility for zoning. Promising TransLink a role in the zoning process and decision making of how our city grows takes us towards the slippery slope of provincial jurisdiction overriding the Vancouver Charter. Ramming through an expensive transit option that is funded by massive development would wipe out whole communities with their affordable rental units and close down local area planning processes for which we have received international acclaim. Vancouver's idea of planning is not served well by pandering to megaprojects without respecting existing communities. Neither is democracy."
The Vision Council is pushing this plan through quickly and quietly.
Former TEAM city councillor Marguerite Ford attended the only open house on the plan, concluding, "I am very concerned about the lack of public input into the plan, the lack of consideration of local area plans, and the lack of demonstrated understanding of land use economics." She gave examples of where increased development pressures will result in demolitions of heritage and older affordable rental housing in favour of towers in Chinatown, and residential towers will impact land economics on adjacent industrial land at Marine and Cambie.
The city is claiming that this plan does not need public consultation because it is based on policy that has already had consultation. However, that is not, in fact, the case.
Key changes in the Regional Context Statement are entirely new regional designations that make provisions for the region, TransLink, and the province to have increased influence in land use authority in these areas. The public deserves a major say in all of this, but alarmingly, has had none.
The downtown core of Vancouver was previously been designated a regional centre, but only as a dot on a map. Now it is an exact lot-by-lot line on the map that covers a much broader area. The “metro core” has been extended to include the entire downtown peninsula (including the West End, Coal Harbour, the Central Business District, Yaletown, and the Downtown Eastside), Strathcona, Fairview, and Mount Pleasant—east to Clark/Knight Street, north to the water, south to 16th Avenue, and west to Burrard.
Additional lot-by-lot regional designations include Oakridge Town Centre and Cambie Street as frequent transit development areas (FTDA). The Broadway Corridor is included as a future FTDA, from Boundary Road to Blanca Street.
The city is proposing increasing its share of regional growth in population, housing units, and jobs. However, no detailed analysis or data has been provided to justify any need for such an increase beyond what the region has currently projected. Despite repeated requests from the public, the city has steadfastly refused to provide any information that could confirm or contradict their proposed interventions.
So much for Vision's claim to having an open data policy.
Vision Vancouver's public engagement seems devoted to using public money to hold parties to campaign for Vision, but avoids engaging the people on important issues that will shape their communities for decades to come.
The public deserves a more robust and meaningful consultation process on the issues that affect them rather than spending public money on PR campaigns.